When I look at a design magazine, as I sometimes like to do, and I find no art in it (as is, sadly, often the case) it makes me realize that people have basically given up on art. For instance, one magazine photo features some decorative plaster ceiling moldings painted black and displayed in an elegant picture frame and placed above a beautiful couch. Well, that, I tell you, is definitely a cry for help. We are living in the aftermath of abstraction and living with the unforeseen consequences of anything-is-art. “I could do that” is the plaint for some. For others, it’s the door of opportunity opening. Designers figure: “Why should I search for art when I can just make something that goes with the mood?” And they do. And what’s the difference between this designer-made art and the so-called artist’s art? Not much.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can reconnect with subject matter in painting. We can stop feeling that we must accept the status quo as regards what art is. Just because someone says that such and such is art does not have to require our uncritical assent. We can ask ourselves what kind of hidden agenda lies behind the current definitions of art. Or more purposefully one can say, “Humbug on their idea,” and quite resolutely and simply search out one’s own desire. I can find the first sure footing by looking for a picture that has something I care about in it.
Indeed, that’s how I first became an artist. I was still essentially a child and had a child’s taste. But there was a picture of the corner of a fencepost in what obviously must have been “the country” and it had chicorery growing beside it. The grass was green. The sky (what bit was visible) was blue. The chicorery flowers were pretty. The fence structure was simple and straightforward.
I copied it. It was one of my first exercises in painting. It was less marvelous than, say, copying Monet. But I didn’t know who Monet was back then. This was my more humble beginning in appreciating landscape in art. It connected to who I was then. And humble beginning that it was, it led me to better things — including to Monet. It was a gentle introduction to great art, and not unlike what many great artists themselves had in the way of introduction. Even Van Gogh studied Charles Bargue’s Cours de Dessin. These kinds of beginnings do not diminish genuine creativity. But doing nothing, and attempting nothing, does.